Everyone knows the origin of this approach. In “pro-European” circles, the French “No” to the European Constitution in May 2005 echoed as if the straight course the European Union had been expected to follow had suddenly come to a halt. As a true shock to some elites, this rejection simply conveyed citizen’s disappointment and weariness mixed with frustration. Europe should strive for more, or it will cease to exist. It is clear that today the European Union needs “politics” and this is what France is hoping to contribute during the second half of 2008.
If the judgement seems fair and the proposed solutions relevant, it is time to turn words into action. Will France manage to resolve the double contradiction it is faced with – to bridge the permanent gap between its elite and its citizens and between its actions and its intentions ?
In a recent interview with Euros du Village, Pierre Moscovici, Minister for European Affairs during the French Presidency of 2001, pointed out that three conditions must exist for a good Presidency – modesty, respect and an exemplary attitude. Through these principles, which are demonstrated through actions, the 26 remaining Member States, the European institutions and European citizens will be waiting to see the French approach and management of key issues.
- Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French minister for European Affairs
Former member of the French socialist party, he decided last year to enter Sarkozy’s conservative government. Moderate and very appreciated in Brussels, he is considered as the best asset of the French President in European circle.
Modesty seems to imply that a type of typical French arrogance should be banished. France can indeed claim to be a major source of inspiration for proposals at European level, but it encounters difficulties in properly managing its own initiatives, respecting the rules which the country itself approved, and telling others what to do. From the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) to that of the Constitution, from the Maastricht criteria to the Treaty of Lisbon, its adoption owing a lot to Angela Merkel’s skills, the list of examples is long.
The president’s personal style and even the first steps towards a Mediterranean Union, the key project of the French Presidency, have turned expectations into apprehension. Inclined to act too quickly, too independently, and without consulting the 27 Member States, Nicolas Sarkozy has often reached the limits of respect towards his partners, especially Germany. Moreover, although the EU’s economic governance is one of the Presidency’s priorities, France is not a good example of strong economic and budgetary management.
This is a symbolic task – in simple terms, these six months amount to a “Presidency of the European Union”, even if simply limited to the Presidency of the Council of the Europe. In terms of communication, language is important, as the term “presidency” has quite different meanings in Paris and in Brussels. In terms of governing a nation, the focus is on the capacity to lead, decide, and apply the benefits of power. In terms of leading an intergovernmental institution, more attention is paid to encouraging, standing out, and facilitating compromise.
This Presidency is an ideal opportunity to reconcile the French with the European Union. The gap between the European Union and its citizens is increasing at a worrying pace and the European Union is very French in certain aspects. Maybe being tempted by politics a bit more would be of benefit for the European Union. In fact, from the Olympic Games in Beijing to the election of the President of the Council, the agenda for these six months is crammed with opportunities to do so. That is probably where the European challenge lies. The French challenge is, on the contrary, to finally realise that willpower alone is not enough.